Working for Workaholics

Jason Calacanis has stirred up some blogosphere trouble with his post on How to save money running a startup (17 really good tips).

Tip #11:

Fire people who are not workaholics. come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks if you want balance in your life. For realz

Jason has edited Tip #11, changing language from “workaholics” to “[people who] don’t love their work” after getting some feedback from the inter-webs.

Coming from the opposite end of the spectrum is DHH from 37signals, countering with a post entitled: Fire the Workaholics. He writes about 5 reasons to fire the workaholics:

  • Workaholics may well say that they enjoy those 14 hour days week after week, but despite their claims, working like that all month, all the time is not going to be sustainable. When the burnout crash comes, and it will, it’ll hit all the harder and according to Murphy at the least convenient time.
  • People who are workaholics are likely to attempt to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at the problem. If you’re dealing with people working with anything creatively that’s a deadbeat way to get great work done.
  • People who always work late makes the people who don’t feel inadequate for merely working reasonable hours. That’ll lead to guilt, misery, and poor morale. Worse, it’ll lead to ass-in-seat mentality where people will “stay late” out of obligation, but not really be productive.
  • If all you do is work, your value judgements are unlikely to be sound. Making good calls on “is it worth it?” is absolutely critical to great work. Missing out on life in general to put more hours in at the office screams “misguided values”.
  • Working with interesting people is more interesting than just working. If all you got going for your life is work, work, work, the good team-gelling lunches are going to be some pretty boring straight shop talk. Yawn. I’d much rather hear more about your whittling project, your last trek, how your garden is doing, or when you’ll get your flight certificate.

I am in the unique position of working for workaholics, but not particularly being a workaholic myself, although I do love my job.

One of my bosses (a senior VP) said at one point that my not being a workaholic like a well-known director in his organization was a pity. He then quickly backpedalled and said that he didn’t want me to be a workaholic, but his message was clear.

The said director wears it as a badge of honor that he works 12, 14, 16 hour days, regularly operates on less than optimal sleep, and continually martyrs himself, claiming his staff were unable to complete, operate, or control a specific task.

I am unfortunately compared to this director (though my pay is not in the same ball park), but rather than work myself into an early grave (it is clear that said director is going to), or neglect my home life (ditto for director), I plan on managing my work/life balance.

Being an analyst and one to is paid to think outside of the box for solutions, I think that a healthy work/life balance is important. It give me an opportunity to refresh, recharge and come at a problem with new eyes and fresh solutions. I understand Calacanis’ approach, when you are playing with other people’s money and ideas, it is important to make sure you are able complete and compete in the marketplace. The rest of his suggestions are top notch for a startup (or a small liberal arts university), free coffee, nice chairs, and other cost cutting measures.

But being a non-workaholic, I completely agree with Heinemeir Hansson, when it comes to the negative effects of workaholics on the entire organization, particularly when it comes to the culture that is created around staying late. I have experienced this in two positions, one that involved the boss asking every night “Oh, heading out already?” Not a good experience.

Now that Calacanis has edited his entry to talk about loving work, or passion for the job, I think his direction is much more satisfactory. A balance between the two trains of thought is important, employees should not be staying late on Fridays, send them home. Emails at all hours of the night should be dealt with as being unacceptable, everyone needs down time. Giving people a hard time for just working their 8–9 hours should never be accepted.

I guess I have my Dad to thank for not being a workaholic, he was a good example of what I didn’t want my working life to be (Sorry Dad). Life is more than work. My Grandfather has always related to me the old adage:

No one was on their death bed saying, “I wish I had worked more.”